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Air Force Begins Burning Vietnam Era Agent Orange Soil

December 1, 1987

GULFPORT, Miss. (AP) _ The Air Force has started burning 15,000 tons of dioxin-contaminated soil at the Naval Construction Battalion Center here, a purification process that won’t be finished until May.

The highly toxic chemical leaked into the soil from more than 17,000 barrels of the defoliant Agent Orange that were stored at the base in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

Maj. Terry Stoddart, the Air Force’s project manager, said air quality will be tested continuously while the soil is decontaminated.

″We have an ambient air-monitoring program that will measure anything that may be released by what we do,″ Stoddart said Monday from Tyndall Air Force Base in Florida. ″We’ll be monitoring 24 hours a day, seven days a week.″

Stoddart said the work began Wednesday, with contaminated soil being heated to 2,200 degrees Fahrenheit to break down the dioxin.

Dioxin is a byproduct of Agent Orange, which some medical experts have linked to skin disease, birth defects, cancer and other health problems.

More than 18 million gallons of Agent Orange were sprayed in and around combat areas in South Vietnam until the defoliant was banned in 1971.

″The drums were headed to Southeast Asia, but we couldn’t use them,″ so they were stored at the base until 1977, Stoddart said.

In 1977, the drums were incinerated at sea. But the barrels apparently had already leaked or spilled, and about 18 acres of soil surrounding the storage area now contains dioxin levels 20 times higher than what is considered safe.

Stoddart said decontamination, which will cost about $9.1 million, will lower the levels to less than one part per billion, which is considered safe.

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